SINGAPORE - I understand Mr Dino Trakakis' intention to encourage employers to consider autistic individuals for jobs that are detail-oriented and systematic in nature ("Right jobs tap strengths of people with autism"; last Thursday).
While I agree that people with autism tend to be more suited for such jobs, they should not be restricted to them as they need to be exposed to the real world, so they can live independently when they do not have caregivers. Cafe jobs are not a poor match in this respect.
The public may not be aware that while autistic individuals have difficulties in social aspects, they have social needs too. They want to be part of society but struggle to interact "normally".
The first point I wish to make is that barista jobs are not an end-point. They train people with autism to handle social situations common in the outside world. After they learn to handle such situations, they can progress to higher-paying jobs.
Second, autism is a spectrum disorder and each individual is different. Some are hypersensitive, some do not tolerate sudden changes to routine, but others have no such problems. Also, some prefer the social setting of a cafe to the isolation of programming.
Rather than restricting them to jobs like programming, we could look out for other jobs where meticulousness and order are desired. They would have more job choices and thus, a better chance of having happy working lives. Pay does not equate with how meaningful a job is.
Third, jobs that were once purely technical, such as engineering, now require good communication and social skills. Negotiation and teamwork are part of the work scope. These jobs challenge the individual more, regardless of whether or not he is autistic.
The situation in Singapore has become much better for the autistic community due to the laudable efforts of dedicated individuals. We have schools catering to children across the spectrum, and have progressed to promoting the employment and employability of people with autism.
That Starbucks is hiring people with autism is a result of such efforts, and I am sure more success stories will follow.
This article was published on April 30 in The Straits Times.
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